By R’ Chaim Bruk
It’s been said that “there’s no rest for the weary.” Some days, I find that truism to be all too realistic. Around Yom Kippur time, I told Chavie that, for me, Simchas Torah this year will end on October 6 at 2:00 p.m., not on Wednesday night, September 29, and I needed to psych myself up to be in the insane holiday mindset for an additional week.
You see, a prestigious Jewish institution was organizing an event in Great Falls, Montana, three hours north of Bozeman, and we were asked to arrange a high-quality kosher lunch and dinner for about 85 attendees. This was no small operation, which included navigating logistics galore. We pulled it off in class, but it took a toll on me. I knew it would be post-yom tov, after an uplifting yet extremely exhausting holiday, but when called to duty, when brothers and sisters in arms, fellow Jews, need a service that we can provide and that doesn’t exist elsewhere in Montana, we get it done. It was a beautiful affair and a kiddush Hashem on many levels, and for me, the bonus of it all was spending quality time with many gentiles.
Naturally, we spend a lot of time with non-Jews in Montana, but this case was unique because I was running the show, with many gentiles assisting the operation, and I spent about 18 hours with them on the job. The conversations, the curiosity, the bewilderment, the confusion, and the questions were all part of this amusing package deal. Explaining to Bonnie about the need to check the lettuce and spinach for bugs, educating Sam about why I need to blowtorch the oven and then be the one to turn on the fire to ensure it’s bishul Yisrael, explaining to Brittany that the ice cream we were serving for dessert was pareve because we would never mix dairy and meat. It was rewarding, as they were receptive and wanted to know more.
One of the waiters asked, “Rabbi, what makes wine kosher?” We had an impressive array of wines, and his question enabled us to have a great chat about why the wines were all mevushal and what that means, how wine was used historically for idolatrous libations, and how that can still be the case in some parts of the world. It led to a conversation about the emunah in one G-d and the prohibition against believing in anything but Hashem Yisbarach, chas v’shalom. Generally, the concept of mevushal wine is one of the harder questions for me to explain, but explain I do, and people respect the reasons, whether they fully understand them or not.
In addition to the staff helping the catering, the CEO and board of directors of the local hosting institution were at this event and I got to spend quality time with them. At one point during lunch, the CEO, with whom I had spent time the evening before, said to me, “Rabbi, tell them about the immersion pool.” I went on to chat with a group of renowned Montana businessmen and women about the importance of mikveh and family purity, sharing how we built Montana’s mikveh, and how we had traveled to Salt Lake City for two years, clocking 14 hours roundtrip, to use the mikveh there. They were impressed with our devotion to Torah and unwavering commitment to mitzvos even when living in Big Sky Country where it doesn’t always come easy.
I share the details of my time in Great Falls because too often Jews are uncomfortable sharing what it is that we believe, the beautiful, deep, reasons for our customs and traditions. In truth, when we are comfortable in our own Torah-guided skin, those around us are on board, even if, for example, there’s the initial moment of awkwardness when not shaking the hand of someone of the opposite gender. We had a great time together, enjoyed brisket, said l’chaim on kosher wines, and basked in each other’s company—and none of us had to lower our standards to do so.
In this week’s parashah, Lech Lecha, Avraham Avinu, our founding father, and his wife, our Matriarch Sarah, embark on a journey to transform the world. Once they discovered G-d and in return G-d discovered them, so to speak, enjoying their uniqueness, they chose to devote themselves to teach the world monotheism, unadulterated G-dliness, giving their heart and soul to this vital endeavor. There was no Torah at that time, so what does it mean when Rashi explains the verse “And the souls that they made in Charan” as: “This means the people that they brought under the wings of the Divine presence. Avraham would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women.” It means that Abraham and Sarah converted their fellow humans to a belief in one G-d, which was revolutionary at that time of rampant paganism.
Yet, it was even more than that. The Talmud (tractate Sotah 10b) states: And he called there in the name of G-d, Master of the World. Reish Lakish said, “Do not read it ‘Vayikra’ (he called) but rather ‘Vayakri’ (he made others call).” This teaches that Avraham our father taught all the passersby to call out in the name of the Al-mighty.
Abraham and Sarah didn’t suffice, like Noah, with waiting to respond to a curious passerby; rather, they sought ways to interact with people, local or visiting, to inspire them about G-d. They were, in a sense, the first Lubavitchers, who didn’t just build an ark and hope for visitors to inquire but were active in seeking out anyone who would listen to the Divine messaging and shared it with love.
I thought about this last week, because each of us has so many opportunities to permeate the universe with Hashem and His light. Every stop at the gas station, every run to the grocery, every visit to the dentist is an opportunity to help the world scream “Keil Olam,” not “Keil Ha’Olam,” the difference being whether they call out that G-d is the “G-d of the world,” as in two separate entities, or they recognize that “G-d is world,” meaning the world itself is a living manifestation of the Divine.
It could be with meaningful conversations, but the G-dly energy is also drawn down and imbued in creation via a Minchah stop in Ulm, a Shacharis in Chester, a Ma’ariv in the back of the kitchen of the venue. Each act of G-dliness that we do reveals more and more the “G-d world” oneness, bringing us ever closer to the day when the prophet tells us: “And the glory of the L-rd shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together…”
Next week in daf yomi we will learn the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah, with a beautiful explanation from the Maharal, explaining that when the Torah says “Elokei Yaakov” it refers to all of humanity. When the name Yisrael (Israel) is mentioned, it means Jews specifically, but Yaakov (Jacob) references all people. We need to internalize that idea and start incorporating this approach in our day-to-day life.
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.